More Co-op — Schizoid Review

19 Jul

Co-op is the name of the game this week.  If you haven’t checked it out already, take a gander at the latest design exercise too.

So what is Schizoid, and why should you pay attention to it?

Schizoid is, I believe, the very first published game built on Microsoft’s XNA platform, and was developed by Torpex Games.  Well, that’s nice and all, but it’s not the reason why Schizoid is exceptional.

You saw this coming: Schizoid is the most co-op game ever.  No, literally.  Their tagline reads “two minds, one goal” and I’ll be damned if they don’t tell you that everywhere on the UI.  But that’s okay, because the gameplay is wonderful.

The controls are simple: move the left analog stick in the direction you want your little ship to move.  Player one is a blue icy ship and player two is an orange fiery ship.  Much like the famed Ikaruga, your ship collects enemies of the same colour.  Touch a blue enemy as the red ship and you’re down one life.  Well, both of you are down one life.

When I said that Schizoid is literally the most co-op game ever, I meant it…literally.  Since you share lives with your buddy you quickly develop strategies to protect your partner’s ship and your own, while conserving your shared life pool. After some play you’ll probably begin to leverage the very binary AI to your advantage.  Not only is it fatal to bump into an opposite colour, but the colour coding communicates some other effects: opposite colours are attracted to your ship, while matching colours avoid you.  You can then work as a team to take turns exerting these attract/repel states.  The orange ship will jut out to attract blue enemies for the blue ship, making a daring escape as the blue player snatches them up.

Cool concept, but it only becomes especially interesting because of the unique situations that levels put you in.  Very simple, fundamental game design — but extremely effective.  For instance, enemies can be affected through walls — so you can do things like have one player attract enemies into a wall for the other player to nab.  Then there are situations that require precise teamwork.  Picture an immobile orange enemy — as it sits there, blue energy shots emanate in timed waves.  In order to defeat it, the blue player must inch as close to the immobile orange enemy as possible, and if the orange player strikes just after the blue player absorbs a wave, the enemy is defeated.

On top of all that is the traditional meta-mechanic of powerups, but with that added co-op spin.  The abilities, like extra speed or detonating nearby enemies, aren’t so special per se, but rather the way you activate them is.  A friend likened it to Schizoid’s idea of a fist pound.  One player must collect the powerup which then trails behind him — the second player must then collide with the first player, and the effect of the powerup is activated in a shower of snazzy particle effects.  One of the powerups deserves special mention: think of the tow cable from Star Wars, but each ship is holding one end of the cable.  You can then proceed to wrap up or fly by enemies with the wire to destroy them.  It feels very good.

As if to justify its name, Schizoid also has a mode that I believe can only be accurately controlled by a genuine schizophrenic.  In the Uberschizoid mode you control both ships, using both analog sticks at once.  It’s not long before your brain gets fried and your ships go careening directly into threats, but it’s certainly a challenging experience that can be quite rewarding should you master it, even just for a few levels.  You’ll find yourself exercising the same teamwork tactics with yourself.  Woah.

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